A public health expert is warning that the current COVID-19 response could lead to a year of rolling lockdowns around the country.
Professor Anthony Staines will continue his campaign for a ‘zero-COVID’ policy across the island of Ireland when he appears before the Dáil COVID-19 committee this afternoon.
On Breakfast Briefing with Trish Laverty this morning, he said the Government’s current policy is likely to lead to localised lockdowns, similar to that imposed on Kildare, Laois and Offaly, being imposed on other counties in the coming months.
“The disease is unpredictable and hopefully there won’t be too many of them but there is a real risk that we are going to spend the next nine months to a year with what you might call rolling lockdowns in different counties with all the associated disruption,” he said.
He said there are new cases “in a lot more counties than there were say six weeks ago.”
“That really says that this disease is spreading quietly around the country and no part of the country is safe from it,” he said. “That is very regrettable but that is the situation new are in.
Professor Staines said officials will not know how the virus is behaving is the three counties for a number of weeks, “which means there is a high chance that the current restrictions in those counties will be extended.”
Crush the curve
Professor Staines is one of hundreds of Irish scientists who signed an open letter in early June calling on the Government to ‘crush the curve’ rather than aim to flatten it.
He said the current strategy of living with the virus is “a little bit like walking on a tightrope; it is easy to slip off one way or the other.”
He said New Zealand, China and Korea have shown that a zero-COVID approach is possible – and far less damaging economically.
“New Zealand has demonstrated that the virus can come back – But the difference between what has happened in New Zealand and what has happened here is that the virus has come back in one place,” he said.
“They seem relatively confident they know where the virus came from and they are ready to start driving it back down to zero in that area while the rest of the country continues with very limited restrictions.
“It is certainly feasible for us to do this. Clearly that is a decision for the Government to make and the meeting this afternoon is part of that discussion.”
Professor Staines said the approach would also make it safer to reopen schools.
“We need to reopen schools and keep the very large majority of them fully open,” he said.
“There is almost a practical certainty that there will be outbreaks in one or two schools but the evidence shows that the higher the rate of circulation of the virus in the community, the greater the risk in schools.
“So, it is very much in our interest, in terms of keeping schools open to drive the circulation of the virus in the community as low as possible.”